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Posted: Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Abominable Snowman have long been known as some of the greatest hoaxes of all time. But what if they aren't hoaxes at all? That's what Loren Coleman, cryptozoologist and author of "The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates" (Anomolist Books, $14) has spent his life's work trying to prove.

All over the globe, people have stories - and even pictures - of mysterious mammals. Some can be identified, like the giant squid found in a Japanese parking lot in 2006. But others cannot, such as the ancient fossil of a two-headed, long-necked aquatic reptile found in China.

Cryptozoology is not based on records of existing animals. Rather, it is the study of creatures whose existence has not yet been proven. Understandably, some skeptics do not believe in the possible existence of these yet-to-be-classified animals. However, Coleman and others like him firmly believe that cryptozoology can unlock the mysteries to the past.

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"The general public doesn't think much of the new megamouth shark," Coleman explains. "People tend to forget that animals like the mountain gorilla or the giant panda were once thought to be nonexistent."

Story time

Though there aren't nearly as many researchers in this field as in other areas of biology, numerous colleges and universities have added crypto-curriculums to their programs. Certainly, interest in - or at least suspicion of - this field of research is growing. Coleman alone receives around 200 e-mails a day from curious kids and adults. But, what's most interesting, he says, is hearing stories from eyewitnesses of mysterious mammals in their own back yard.

"In April of 1977, I coined the name 'Dover Demon,' which was named for a little thing that was seen in the woods by three separate groups of eyewitnesses," Coleman recalls. "So I investigated the area, with no media contamination, and found a creature that was about 4 feet tall with spindly fingers and feet, a figure-eight shaped head, with no mouth and skin that looked like shark skin. The reason this is my favorite [case study] is I know it happened, and I could see there was no contamination [of evidence]."

Whether you believe the Loch Ness Monster is a relative of the plesiosaur, as many contend, or that she's really just a tree floating downstream, this branch of science challenges the naysayers in hopes of expanding our knowledge of the animal kingdom. Or, at the very least, proving that the possibility of the unknown is sometimes answer enough.



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